Pedal steel guitars make high demands on the amplifiers they run into, both sonically and technologically. That’s why it is important to use an amplifier that is tough and versatile, and can handle these high demands from the pedal steel guitar. Pedal steel guitar amplifiers with the right features are important for handling the commands made by pedal steel guitar playing.
Features to consider for pedal steel guitar amplifiers…
–Power and Speaker Size: Can the amplifier handle the pedal steel guitar’s hot output and large frequency range, especially when playing the C6 neck? It seems 99% of amplifiers at common music stores aren’t made to handle the pedal steel’s signal. They either don’t have enough headroom, or they have too small of a speaker size. They just can’t handle the large frequency span of the instrument, and often distort from a lack of clean headroom in the power department. A pedal steel amp usually requires at least a 12-inch speaker to accurately amplify the full range of the instrument. A 15-inch speaker is also commonly used to allow extra low end (bass note frequencies); especially for the C6 neck and 12-string tunings, where lower notes can be played. Some 12-inch speakers can handle these low notes just fine though. If you are playing the C6 neck, you’ll especially want to consider the differences between a 12-inch and 15-inch speaker for the lower end.
–Pre EQ and Post EQ patches: These allow a player to bypass or utilize the EQ circuitry within the amp, giving a player control over how they want the amp’s EQ section to affect the volume pedal or EFX pedal’s signals. This can be handy…if you’re using a delay pedal, then you can run it Post EQ so that your signal hitting the delay pedal already has the sweet EQ tone settings that you found through experimenting with the amp’s settings.
–EQ Functions: What functions or capabilities does the amp have for equalization? Sometimes amps will have extra EQ features such as parametric EQ, which can give one more control over certain frequencies: especially mid frequencies, and give a player more tone shaping possibilities. The amount and types of EQ controls will vary between amps, so using your ear is always a good starting point. If the amp sounds good naturally, then using the EQ on it properly will only benefit your tone, regardless of the amp’s EQ functions. Having extra EQ capabilities and functions can be nice to have though; often times EQing just depends on the particular amp. Experimenting with the amp’s EQ settings can be enlightening, and help a player better understand how they affect that particular amp’s sound.
–Direct out (XLR): Does the amplifier have a direct output, which is balanced and XLR? This can be great for running your amp’s signal directly to recording consoles, and even soundboards. This runs the amp’s signal cleanly into your destination, regardless of whether or not you want sound to come out of the amp’s speaker. Feel like engineering? Next time you record your pedal steel, run it directly into the recording console’s input, as well as miking the amp’s speaker too. When mixing, blend these two signals together for a mix of bolder, clean dry signal from the direct out, and the more exciting lively miked signal. Pan one hard right and the other hard left in the stereo image, to add stereo thickness and a wide image to your pedal steel sound.
–Reverb: This may seem silly, but some amps don’t have a reverb unit built into them, or they don’t have a reverb control. Some smaller, or older amps are like this. For pedal steel we crave reverb, so consider this and where you’ll get that reverb from…unless you’re playing in a large concert hall with natural reverb, or want to purchase a separate reverb foot pedal to add to your signal, you’ll want a nice-sounding reverb to come with the amp. Fenders usually have that classic reverb sound, and a good reverb unit too. You will have to look more for vintage Fenders for pedal steel guitar though, as not many have been manufactured for handling steel guitar since the olden days.
–Weight: Are you going to be taking the amp to a lot of gigs? Or will you be using it in the practice room or at home mostly? You may want to consider how heavy the amp is, and how portable it is. If you are gigging a lot, then having a lighter amp may help you physically. Some amps have wheels on them to ease transportation.
–Headphone Jack: Most amps have these nowadays, and it’s a nice option to have if you have roommates. No one wants to hear you practice that Pat Martino octave displacement riff on your pedal steel for an hour; even if it is the hippest lick of the day.
There are many more features to consider when using an amplifier for pedal steel guitar. All in all though, these ones specifically will add to your enjoyment of amplifying your pedal steel guitar. For more ideas on amplifiers for pedal steel, check out these pages…